The outcast youth Ishmael, succumbing to wanderlust during a dreary New England autumn, signs up for passage aboard a whaling ship. The Pequod sails under the command of the one-legged Captain Ahab, who has set himself on a monomaniacal quest to capture the cunning white whale that robbed him of his leg: Moby-Dick. Capturing life on the sea with robust realism, Melville details the adventures of the colorful crew aboard the ship as Ahab pursues his crusade of revenge, heedless of all cost.
"The greatest of American novels." (
"[A]n intense, superbly authentic narrative. Its theme and central figure...are reminiscent of Job in his search for justice and of Oedipus in his search for truth." (
Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature)
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I read Moby Dick when I was a student and recalled that it was a bit of a struggle to get through to the end. Listening to it again made me remember why. Although the book is rightly regarded as a classic, to the modern reader, it is terribly padded in the middle with long dissertations on all aspects of whaling, sometimes in minute and confusing detail which rather detracts from the momentum of the story - which is undoubtedly a thriller when it is allowed to get going. Although I am not generally a fan of abridged versions, I think this book might be an exception.
On the plus side the reader does a masterful job and I think it was his superb performance that made for an entertaining experience, and kept me going to the end.
I first read Moby Dick when I was about fourteen and loved it. I saw the movie with Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab on t.v. as a Sunday afternoon matinee and enjoyed that too but the movie was all about action and not about the music of language so it never matched up to the book for me. The novel is poetry and a 'stream of consciousness' and a rich exploration of a million ideas about the rewards, laments, pleasant and unpleasant sensations of life. It is a 'classic' because it endures reading after re-reading and throughout a lifetime it is always a new experience to read it. Now in my fifties, I must have read Moby Dick maybe twenty times and I guess I will read it many more times in the years ahead.
Don't ask me for a synopsis of the 'story' because for such a sophisticated novel, any synopsis is a betrayal. Okay, you twisted my arm, here's a brief summary: an American feels jaded by life on land, goes to sea in a whaler, befriends Queequeg, a Pacific Islander harpoonier, is drawn into Captain Ahab's obsession with hunting down a great white whale that had previously injured the captain, leaving him with only one leg (and a peg leg made of whalebone), with dramatic, tragic consequences. In the course of which narrative, the author gives us vivid descriptions of scenes and characters, wonderful asides expressing pithy opinion on virtually everything under the sun, and generally presents himself, the author, as the most fascinating human being amongst a whole cast of amazing and interesting people, his characters, none of whom is a mere stereotype but all sublimely unique and a Romantic hero - all 'cool' (Melville's own term). You can't spend time amongst such elevated company without feeling inspired and inflamed with a desire to be a Romantic hero too - you can see why I fell in love with the book as a fourteen-year-old, chuckle. Now over fifty, no longer a hero to myself or anyone, I still love the author's imagination and artistry and his moral courage able to paint humanity as so absolutely admirable and always noble or at least 'cool', even when 'lowly sailors' in their right mind and eating dumplings or respectable Captains, crazed, and stumping the deck in the graveyard watch.
A favourite book, I was wary of buying an audio recording because who could ever match up to the narrator in my own head and summon up the same rich and fascinating inner images and the same varied emotional responses? The movies failed, could an audio performance succeed? I tried all the versions of Moby Dick on offer through Audible.co.uk and settled on this version because I was bowled over by the performance of Anthony Heald. I can't praise it enough! He reads with sensitivity, a deep engagement with the text, a dramatic flare. I called Moby Dick a 'stream of consciousness' and as such it needs to be 'inhabited' so the text flows, it has to feel like it is coming spontaneously from a human soul, someone who is letting us share in his experiences, sensations, thoughts as they occur. Anthony Heald is able to do this and his reading brings out all the rich complexity of the text, its poetry, and all the rich complexity of the characters, their varied feelings and thoughts. You 'live' Moby Dick with this performance. It deserves some sort of award. Are there Oscars for audio performances? This recording makes all the others sound like computer generated text-to-voice.
Warning: a great novel is not like a trashy paperback, you cannot read it with half your attention and 'get it'. A great novel requires you to read it with respect, full attention, pulling your own weight in the author-reader partnership. Similarly, some audio books are so badly performed you can tune in and out and miss little. Shrug. But other audio books, and this version of Moby Dick is certainly one, enshrine great solo performances by excellent character actors and deserve the same committed attention you'd give an actor in a theatre. Bottom line, to get value from anything you usually have to put effort into it. A willingness to devote attention to this great book, whether you read it or listen to an unabridged audio recording of it, will bring great reward.
Note: this recording misses out the material included at the beginning of the printed book (copyright, contents, introduction, etymology, extracts) and begins with 'Chapter One: Loomings'. I do not find this spoils my pleasure but other reviewers have complained that these omissions mean the recordings are not acurately described as 'unabridged'. I guess it would matter if this were my only copy of Moby Dick but since I have both print and eBook versions the omission is trivial for me.
Summary, if you love classic literature and are willing to invest attention to a masterly performance then I most heartily recommend Moby Dick as read by Anthony Hearn. Absolutely TOP MARKS. Personally, I will be looking out for more performances by Mr Hearn. Call me a fan, chuckle.